MOVIE REVIEW: Third 'Twilight' film better, but not by much

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Twilight Saga: Eclipse (PG-13)

2 stars out of 4

The bookend scenes of placid puppy-love set in a sunbathed field of lavender and lilies that more resemble a Hallmark ad than a vampire movie is an ideal indicator regarding the content of "Eclipse." This isn't a dangerous occult franchise populated with the undead and shape-shifters steeped in lust and forbidden love, it's a six-hour collection of featherweight Abercrombie & Fitch commercials.

The good news is that it's better than its two predecessors, but only negligibly. But the slight increase in quality isn't enough to warrant the inclusion of an additional half star in the overall quality rating.

For its core audience -- females under the age of 25 -- the omission of monster-movie staples such as blood and graphic violence is probably a good thing. That'd be messy and gross and would just get in the way of the tepid, lukewarm love triangle involving leads Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Luatner).

Fans of "Team Jacob" will have plenty to celebrate here. Not only is he seen shirtless most of the time, he's given significant reinforcement from Bella that he could become her Chosen One. After all, he's actually alive, warm-blooded, has smoldering six-pack abs, will age at the same rate as Bella and is only a part-time werewolf.

Even more so than in the first two installments, Edward represents the polar opposite extreme to Jacob. Slight, soft-spoken, sullen, asexual and largely humorless, Edward dresses like an androgynous '70s-era glam rock star who wears more make-up than any of the female characters and actually glitters. As he was born in the 19th century and has a dated, albeit quaint mentality regarding romance and courting, his gentlemanly and gingerly conduct around Bella is the bedrock foundation of writer Stephenie Meyer's chaste novels.

For Bella, Edward's steadfast adherence to abstinence is starting to get tiresome. She desperately wants him to be her "first" and turn her into a vampire, but he'll only oblige her after they get married. It's odd that Bella's father Charlie (Billy Burke) doesn't prefer Edward's safe-as-milk, old-school mindset to Jacob's impatient, bull-headed and hot-blooded intentions regarding his daughter. Maybe it's the whole undead thing.

When it was announced that David Slade would be the director for "Eclipse," non-fans of the books and first two films became guardedly optimistic. Slade's dark, squirmy thriller "Hard Candy" and his chilly, blood-drenched vampire flick "30 Days of Night" indicated he might bring some real teeth to an otherwise toothless enterprise. No such luck.

Certainly hamstrung by a studio deeply concerned with audience expectations (and maybe also with some pressure applied by Meyer), Slade lends the film no noticeable personal touch or artistic stamp, and through no evident fault of his own, is nothing more than a low-caliber gun-for-hire here.

By the time Slade is given the opportunity to flex his considerable action muscles, it is in an 11th hour, heavy-CGI fight sequence where there is lots of movement and considerable loss of life, but they are "dry" deaths. "Dry" meaning sterile and detached with nobody on the field of battle losing a single drop of blood; not even two victims of decapitation. As in "New Moon," the only blood lost in the movie is a trickle of Bella's by her own hand.

Given its five-day holiday opening weekend and strong word of mouth, it's a safe assumption "Eclipse" will eclipse the box-office take of the first two films and more than wet the appetites of the faithful who will now sit with baited breath in anticipation of the two-part, 2011/2012 "Breaking Dawn" finale.

Sadly the only thing steamy or hot about "Eclipse" is its summer release date. (Summit Entertainment)